I’ve never been to me*

This post is inspired by The Bloggess‘ latest post I have no fucking idea what I am doing which has inspired 500 (and counting) comments so far, including the three comments I’ve left there… *cough cough* yes, I am a comment hog… 

I have been grappling with this question: Who am I? since high school, and it has induced a lot of angst and crazy shit, including reading and misreading existentialist novels, and a suicide attempt because it felt exhausting and pointless to go on living.

I remember one of my teachers was particularly asinine. For example, this being an all girls’ school, she would interfere in people’s friendships whenever she thought the young women were too close to each other emotionally. (More about that, and my life in all girls high school some time later…)  Anyway, one day she decided to talk about our mottos in life. So she wrote a bunch of standard, expected, nice things, e.g. the Golden Rule, be grateful, Karma, etc. Then she asked us to vote. I did not raise my hand, thinking it would not matter. That bitch went and added up the vote, and got pissed when she realized she was one person short. “Who did not raise their hand?!” she hissed. She had that look on her face that made me defiant (otherwise I’m usually quite easy going) and so I raised my hand.

“Why didn’t you vote?”

“Because none of them are my motto in life.”

She smirked. “Well, what is it then?”

I got up and walked to the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk and wrote my name. True (or truth). Then I sat back down.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She hissed again, taunting.

“It means one should be true to themselves and be who they are.”

She rolled her eyes. “Ok then. Let’s vote again.”

Nobody raised their hand for the first choice. Nor for the second one. Nor for the third one… … When she got to the last one, the one I added, every single person in my class raised her hand.

This youthful obsession with finding oneself and staying true to it came hand in hand with my obsession of Hermann Hesse’s Demian. I was hooked by the very first line from the book:

I wanted only to try to live my life in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.  Why was that so very difficult?

This being one of the classic Bildungsroman, the protagonist’s main objective was to find himself, on a path to enlightenment and self realization.

Each man’s life represents the road toward himself, and attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that — one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can.

This sounds great and vaguely romantic on paper, unfortunately, it caused a lot of heartaches and confusion because try as I might, as pretentious as I wanted to be, I could not seem to embark on that journey. I did not even know where the Yellow Brick Road started.

During my “self searching” formative years, I wrote the only short story of mine that was ever published. Don’t get too excited, it was published by the school magazine. I don’t even have a copy of the magazine and I can only barely remember what I wrote. It was narrated in first person (of course!) fashioned after Notes from the Underground. The Narrator complained about having trouble recognizing her own face in the shop windows when she walked by, in the mirrors, and in group photos. What she saw was a young woman with an unnatural smile that made her look as if the corners of her mouth were pinned to the sides of her cheeks. She could not recognize her. Blah blah blah. She ended up carving herself a smile. (WAY before The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger as The Joker…)

Now that I am (much much) older and (debatable) wiser, I think I’ve got it figured out. The problem is that most people still subscribe to the idea of a true self being somewhere to be found, that there is this essence of oneself to be discovered.  (I think this has something to do with Plato and Aristotle from the very beginning but I have given all my knowledge about Greek philosophers back to the teacher as soon as I received my diploma…)  It is somehow our job, as we grow, to discover what that essence, that core, i.e. our true self, is.

But here is the right question to ask, imo: What if there is no core? What if we are more like onions? What if we are made up of all the layers? If so and you still believe in finding that core, no wonder you feel lost: as you peel away each layer of the onion, you are like, FUCK! There is another door behind this door!   What if we shift the paradigm of how “selves” are defined, and that every single layer is YOU?  The real you. Everything you do, everything you say, every decision you make, every breath you take, is what makes you you.

To steal Sartre’s famous line: “Existence precedes essence. ” Your essence, who you are, is defined by the way you live your life, the actions you take, the decisions you make.  This also means one’s true self is constantly changing, because our actions are constantly changing.

The person you encounter each time, even though she may be slightly different from one moment to the next, is you.

Ergo, even when I am pretending, I am being myself because in some sense, when I become so sure of myself, I cease being myself. Ouch my head hurts! I need to stop right now!

Before I end this rambling, I just want to quote e.e.cummings, yes, again, because the quotient of pretentiousness in this post has not gone through the roof just yet!

 

 

* I am not endorsing the message from the one-hit wonder I’ve Never Been to Me. Just borrowing the title. Although I’ll admit, the song is a sweet sweet gem for a good old drunken Karaoke session.

Article by Absence Alternatives

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Diane Laney Fitzpatrick September 21, 2011, 6:15 am

    I think that teenagers – despite all the other crap that goes on in their bodies, endocrine systems, rebellion for no reason, faulty reasoning, and just being a dumbass on a daily basis – are the most philosophical that we’ll ever be. A teenager’s view of religion usually makes more sense than a church leader. Unfortunately, by the time we’re old enough to live out the philosophy, we’re too old and we’ve been touched by the world too much to remember.

    This was a great post, AofA.

  • Andrea @ Shameless Agitator September 21, 2011, 9:17 am

    First of all, your teacher sounds bat-shit-crazy. I’m glad you survived her wrath. I imagine she was not happy when the class chose your motto versus the ones she was force feeding.

    My mom has a motto: “What goes around comes around. If you’re lucky, you get to watch. If you’re very lucky, you won’t care.”

    I like your idea that there is no core, but layers to each of us, each layer IS who we are. (Like an onion. Or parfait.) There are some layers I don’t know about myself, until those pop up in dreams or in a midlife crisis or when finally integrating my shadow.
    Andrea @ Shameless Agitator´s last blog post…Love

  • dufmanno September 21, 2011, 9:45 am

    I’m like an amorphous blob, constantly shifting the goal posts of what it is to be me and to succeed at it. If I remained true to the “me” I was in my younger years I’d be an emotionally stunted lunatic with an awesome rack. Come to think of it I might want that rack back.
    Anyway, it should always be moving and changing and as my doubtful analyst taught me, not all shrinks know what the hell they are talking about.
    dufmanno´s last blog post…The Don Juan of the McDonald’s Drive Through

  • dufmanno September 21, 2011, 9:46 am

    Oh, I would also have movie star hair. I mean if I was like “old” me.
    Now I just have hag head.
    dufmanno´s last blog post…The Don Juan of the McDonald’s Drive Through

  • Elly Lou September 21, 2011, 11:02 am

    I love you hard. And not just because you can slip in a Police reference WHILE flinging my heart all about. And like an onion, you make me tear up. But in a much less stinky way.
    Elly Lou´s last blog post…The Cute, the Funny, and the I CAN’T WAIT TO DEVOUR THIS BOOK!

  • TheKitchenWitch September 21, 2011, 11:03 am

    This is fucking brilliant. I love it. I love the young you, refusing to be a pack animal like your teacher expects.

    I do think we’re layered–I mean, how stupid is it to think you have one core? I am certainly not the person I was a decade ago, or even three months ago. And I’m not even sure we should torture ourselves by wondering who we are, because I don’t think we ever know just yet.
    TheKitchenWitch´s last blog post…My nemesis: Picture Day

  • BigLittleWolf September 21, 2011, 12:14 pm

    I smiled and nodded at so much of this… while I don’t like the term “searching for ourselves” (I think we know more about who we are than we admit, and from an early age), I do believe that coming to grips with what that means, knowing we can change/evolve, and realizing that it’s okay to be ourselves (and not follow the crowd) – those are the tough steps on a perpetual journey. And that journey certainly involves learning new things that are “core” to who we are.

    Love the e. e. cummings quote, by the way!
    BigLittleWolf´s last blog post…Circling

  • dufmanno September 21, 2011, 1:49 pm

    Wait, I totally recant.
    I found myself today while scrubbing the toilet.
    dufmanno´s last blog post…The Don Juan of the McDonald’s Drive Through

  • Naptimewriting September 21, 2011, 3:31 pm

    I wrote a novel about not knowing who you are, yet being desperate to figure it out and start RIGHT now because everyone else seems to know who they are. But The Bloggess has it covered in a paragraph or two and I have small children and can’t finish my last edit to get the damned novel published.

    So, I will revise to a motto that is simple and True and move on. Thanks for this post.
    Naptimewriting´s last blog post…I bow to you

  • Meg at the Members Lounge September 21, 2011, 4:16 pm

    The phrase “ever evolving” would describe my 50-something self; I’m not sure I’ll ever pin down what I’m “supposed” to be, I think I’ll just “be”. And I’m totally fine with that.
    Meg at the Members Lounge´s last blog post…Let Us Fantasize

  • MrsBlogAlot September 21, 2011, 4:48 pm

    I think the paving of your yellow brick road started the day you raised your hand in that class. This post was just tremendous my friend.

  • jotter girl September 22, 2011, 8:03 am

    That day in the classroom sounds like it could have been a scene from a movie. Kind of amazing really….just like you. xx
    jotter girl´s last blog post…Chaz Bono makes me smile.

  • Joy September 23, 2011, 3:36 pm

    This was a very Holden Cauldfield kinda post, my dear, and I LOVED it. All my life I have been obsessed with finding ME. Somewhere down the line – and in more recent months – I’ve fully accepted that I’m just a contradiction in terms, constantly evolving, yet constantly the same all at the same time. Take me or leave me, right? 🙂

    • Absence Alternatives September 23, 2011, 10:34 pm

      I am trying to not be embarrassed and feel like someone is going to accuse me of being a hypocrite when I find myself contradicting myself… Thanks for the kind words!

  • magpie September 23, 2011, 4:12 pm

    i love this post. i love the tale about the asinine teacher, and the shifting sands and constant discovery that is who we all are.

    • Absence Alternatives September 23, 2011, 10:34 pm

      Wow I love this! “the shifting sands and constant discovery that is who we all are”!!

  • Tom G. September 26, 2011, 9:46 am

    In the immortal words of Paul Westerberg,

    “You be me for awhile, and I’ll be you.”

    Self awareness is what separates us from the animals. It’s also what drives most of us bat shit crazy.

    Also? I’ve found that if you really want to know who you are, just ask your loved ones, and they will reveal you to yourself in all your flawed glory.
    Tom G.´s last blog post…Talking Proud!

    • Absence Alternatives October 8, 2011, 7:19 pm

      That’s why I don’t want my kids to read my blog. They probably wouldn’t recognize me in these words. I also dread the day when they start penning their memoirs. What kind of a monster would they be describing?

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